Defining a major gift for your charity

Last week, we looked at the broad definition of a major gift.  This week’s article will give you some practical tips on defining a major gift for your charity.  It’s different for everyone and the amount of resource you have plays a large role in dictating what constitutes a major gift for you.


To do this, you might find it useful to answer these three questions:


  1. How much time do you (and your colleagues) have available to dedicate to this work?
  2. How much time does major gift fundraising take?
  3. How many possible prospects or existing donors is your charity is aware of / working with?


Answering these questions will help in defining a major gift for your charity because major donors require one to one attention and you need to be confident that you’re not overcommitting yourself.  Crap customer service if you’re giving £10 a month is bad enough (unacceptable in fact), but it’s unthinkable for someone with the potential to give 100 times that amount…


A general guide around defining a major gift:


If your turnover is small, your fundraising function is relatively new (or limited to a few, niche sources), your connections are minimal and resources are on the scarce side, then a major donor is probably someone who could give in the £100 – £1,000 bracket.


If you’re well established with a turnover of £1m +, have strong brand recognition, have a successful fundraising function which is well resourced, then a major donor will probably be defined as someone who can give £5,000+


This is designed to be a really practical post, so grab a notebook and let’s look at each of the three questions in more detail:


  1. How much time do you have?


Look ahead to the next 12 months and think about how much time you and your colleagues realistically have in each of those months to dedicate to major gifts fundraising.  Defining a major gift for your charity goes hand in hand with the resources you have available to deliver.


There are 261 working days in a year.  Answer each of these questions and deduct days as you assign time for the things on this list:


  • Are you full time or part time?
  • What other roles and responsibilities do you have which take you away from major gift fundraising (other fundraising disciplines, internal meetings, travel, stewardship of existing donors)
  • Do you have any fundraising events planned or large pieces of work which will take up unusually large amounts of time?
  • How many team members do you have to help with this and how much time do they have?
  • What are your line management responsibilities?
  • When will you and or your team members be likely to be taking annual leave?


For example, if you work three days a week you have a total of: 156 days (138 days after holidays)

But also cover trusts and corporates and manage a team, then you have closer to 46 days each year under 4 days a month which you can confidently dedicate to major gift fundraising.


Not very many is it?


It’s really important not to over-estimate the amount of time you have and even more important not to over-commit yourself.


It’s better to focus on fewer relationships and to deliver an incredible experience for a select group of donors than it is to provide an average or underwhelming experience for more people.  


  1. How much time does major donor fundraising take?


In order to define a major gift for your charity, it really helps if you know how long this work takes.

For those of you new to major gifts fundraising, here are some typical tasks, and an estimation* as to they length of time you can expect to spend doing them:


  • Desk-based research to get an idea of someone’s interest level / capacity to give (1 hour)
  • Cultivation planning (1 – 2 hours)
  • Setting meetings up; emails back and forth (1 hour total)
  • Meeting planning and preparing briefs for colleagues (up to 3 hours)
  • Attending meetings, maybe longer if you’re travelling? (1 – 3 hours)
  • Writing up notes and next steps, updating cultivation plans (1-2 hours)
  • Updating the database / CIC ratings (up to 1 hour)
  • Taking actions from meetings; proposal writing, drafting follow up emails, thank you video / handwritten card (up to 1 day)


Using this illustration, it can take up to three days to properly plan, host and follow up a meeting with a major donor prospect


*disclaimer, note the use of the word ‘estimation’.  I want to be clear that it looks different for every major donor etc etc….


Using our earlier example, a fundraiser with 4 days a month available for major donor fundraising therefore shouldn’t be working with a portfolio of more than around 16 prospects at any one time.


  1. How many possible prospects or existing major donors do you have?


Do you have a suitable number of prospects or donors which correlate with the amount of time you have available?


Too many prospects?  Time to create a business case for additional investment.


Too few and you’ll need to dedicate some additional time to research or look to another type of fundraising in the short term as you build your network.


Knowledge of how much money each donor / prospect might give you in the near future is helpful here in defining a major gift.

You can then look at how many of those people you can realistically work with in the coming year.   Prioritisation will be necessary if you have a long list and you’ll need to focus only on those to whom you are closest and / or who have the potential to give the most.

Beware of selecting only those with the highest capacity.   Remember, rich does not neccessarily equal philanthropic…

A prospect with the potential to give £1,000 each year who is already a donor, participates in events and has pledged a gift in their will (and has told you about it) is probably a better prospect than a local multi-millionaire who has no connections to anyone within your charity and no public track record of philanthropy.

Looking at your allocation and the amounts you plan to ask for, should give you a sense of how to define a major gift for your charity.


If our fundraiser with 4 days a month to dedicate to Major Gift fundraising has 35 prospects / donors but capacity to work with only 16, then they will need to prioritise carefully who they’re going to work with on a one to basis.


The existing and potential relationships they have with these 16 people should enable the fundraiser to define a major gift.  Usually, it’s somewhere between:


  • the lowest amount you plan to ask for from one of your prospects and
  • the average amount you plan to ask for from across your whole allocation.


The most important thing…


Having said all of this, it’s incredibly important that you don’t get too hung up on numbers and metrics.

If you focus on build solid and authentic connections with people who are passionate about your cause, then you won’t go wrong.

As with all fundraising, relationships lie at the heart of doing this successfully.


Are you ready to learn more about forging close and connected relationships with potential major donors?

Our self-guided online training course, Major Gifts Made Simple takes you through the basics of:


  • How to find prospectsmajor gifts made simple
  • Setting a target
  • Writing a case for support
  • Cultivating relationships
  • How to ask for different types of gift




We give you scripts, templates and real-life case studies to help you make the best start in this incredibly rewarding discipline.

Major Gifts Made Simple will be available in November 2021.  Read more and sign up for updates here.

Posted in Fundraising, Major gift fundraising.